Participatory Plant Breeding and Agroecology to Develop Intermediate Wheatgrass for Sustainable Grain Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $171,446.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Lee DeHaan
The Land Institute

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general grain crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: no-till, tissue analysis
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Perennial crops that live for many years increase sustainability by holding soil, reducing nutrient runoff, limiting pesticide use, and boosting farmer incomes through a decrease in inputs. All commonly grown grain crops are annuals, but we are working to develop intermediate wheatgrass (IWG), which has potential to become the first widely grown perennial grain crop. This project will develop improved IWG plants and determine the effect of nitrogen fertility on sustained grain yield in IWG. Over the next three years we will conduct a participatory plant breeding program that will include growing IWG on college campuses, on an NGO research station in Kansas, and at a commercial nursery in Wisconsin in order to identify superior genotypes. Through cross-pollination, we will combine several important traits that we have discovered: large seed, shortness, and shatter resistance. To answer the key question of the role of soil nitrogen (N) in sustained yield, a range of N addition treatments will be applied to IWG stands on three on-farm fields and at research stations in Kansas and Minnesota. Plant tissue nitrogen and seed yield traits will be measured each year. Results from the proposed research will be published in peer-reviewed journals, reported to the scientific community through seminars, published in the popular press (web and hard copy), and presented to several hundred yearly visitors to The Land Institute.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We expect the proposed project to contribute to the following outcomes:
    • Increased knowledge of how to grow and breed IWG for use as a perennial grain crop. Through experimentation and interaction with members of the community of practice, we have been improving our methodology for growing and breeding IWG. We expect this trend to continue, which will be evidenced by accelerated progress in the breeding program and improved techniques for growing the crop.
    • Increased optimism for the potential of IWG as a crop in the food and agriculture community. Optimism is essential to achieving expanded research, development, and planting of the crop. This optimism will be derived from clear progress in the breeding program and the discovery of reliable techniques for raising a productive crop.
    • Increased scientific research with IWG throughout the north central United States. For a new crop to succeed, a diverse team of researchers must be assembled to work on the challenges as they arise. Interest from scientists in many fields is growing, and we soon hope to have a wide array of scientific collaborators.
    • IWG is planted on a large acreage for commercial use, which reduces soil erosion on sloping lands. This is an intermediate term outcome. Commercial plantings depend upon the development of improved varieties, agronomic practices, processing techniques, and marketable products. We expect that even with sustained research funding, this outcome is at least 10 years away.

    Short-term outcomes will include increased knowledge of how to grow and breed IWG, optimism for its potential as a crop within the food and agriculture community, and an increased number of scientists actively engaged in IWG research.

    Intermediate outcomes will include widespread planting of IWG by farmers and commercial use of the grain for food. To evaluate, we will measure indicators of progress toward these outcomes.

    In the long term, we anticipate that diverse perennial grain cropping systems could replace more than 50% of current annual crop acreage. Success in breeding, growing, processing, and marketing IWG will serve as a proof of concept for perennial grains in general. IWG will spark interest in and funding for many other perennial grains, including wheat, rice, sunflowers, dry beans, maize and sorghum. Wherever perennial grain crops are planted, soil erosion will be reduced below replacement levels, nitrate loss to ground and surface waters will be reduced by more than 90%, and herbicide contamination will be sharply reduced. Furthermore, reduced input costs will benefit farmers and rural communities economically.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.